By Clive Moore – Ballina RFC

Connacht Junior League Div 1A
SLIGO      11
(In Heffernan Park, Ballina)
A try from Jordon Farrington and two penalty kicks from Mark Butler was enough to separate the two sides in this tense derby match last Sunday. The result consolidates Sligo’s position at the top of the league, and the North Connacht side will surely go on now to win the Junior league and earn themselves a place in division three of the All Ireland League. The large crowd that turned out to support both sides on the day witnessed a hard fought battle that was contested right up to the final whistle and although it was a relatively low scoring game (Ballina and Sligo share the record for the least amount of trys conceded in the league after this match) there was plenty of incident and endeavour evident to entertain the on lookers.
The early pressure came from Ballina from once they gathered the kick off. They took the game to Sligo and established a foothold in the Sligo half. Ballina’s forwards battled well in the set pieces. They struggled to cope with the Sligo eight initially at the scrummage but managed to win their own ball albeit under considerable pressure at times, number eight Aidan McNulty did very well to ensure the ball emerged for his scrum half Michael Murphy on each occasion, and as the match wore on Ballina gained more parity in this contest. In the lineouts Ballina had the advantage, although they put pressure on themselves by rushing some of their own throw ins. William O’Connor and Phillip Timoney served Ballina well here while Jamie Wilson was the principle target for Sligo. Timoney was excellent for Ballina on Sligo’s throw in and Ballina robbed nearly two thirds of the visitor’s ball during the game.
With this possession Ballina were looking to exploit the talents of Chris O’Neill and David Newman and move the ball wide to wingers Francis Conroy, Niall O’Malley and full back Stephen McCarron. At crucial times the ball was dropped, knocked on or a pass missed and despite a territorial advantage during this period Ballina failed to put points on the board. Ten minutes into the game Cory brown did have an opportunity to open the scoring when Sligo conceded a penalty within his range, but his kick drifted narrowly wide. The game ebbed and flowed and a pivotal moment came in the game when Sligo out half Mark Butler made a break and his opposite number Cory Brown chased back and put in a tackle that was deemed to high by the referee. The subsequent sin binning of Brown seemed harsh and, although Mark Butler was unable to convert the penalty as his kick also drifted wide, it had a major influence in the outcome of the game. While Ballina were reduced to fourteen players, although they defended with renewed vigour they eventually paid the ultimate price. Ironically it occurred after they turned over possession when a Sligo scrum wheeled ninety degrees and from the ensuing Ballina scrum Michael Murphy broke and kicked ahead. When Sligo gathered and put the ball through the hands they were able to exploit the overlap created by the extra man. When winger Jordan Farrington was put away he made no mistake and crashed over in the corner for what was to be the games only try. Mark Butler was unable to add the conversion but ten minutes later he stretched Sligo’s lead to 8-0 when Ballina were penalised for going off their feet just inside the twenty two and in front of their posts.
In the second half Sligo were territorially dominant as Mark Butler kicked astutely to keep his side in Ballina’s half. Ballina’s fullback Stephen McCarron fielded the ball well and, despite the pressure put on him from wingers Jordan Farrington and Aaron Spring from Sligo, put in some excellent line clearing kicks. Mark Butler had another penalty attempt which he put wide before being successful with one when Ballina again infringed at a ruck. This stretched Sligo’s lead to 11-0 and was to be the last points scored in the game.
However this doesn’t reflect Ballina’s effort in the second half as they first defended heroically and then broke out of their half to exert pressure on the league leaders for the final period of the game. Running the ball at every opportunity, Chris O’Neill and David Newman came close to getting away on several occasions and Sligo were reduced to fourteen men themselves as Stephen McCarron was hit with a late and dangerous tackle which forced him to withdraw from the game. Ballina’s half backs Michael Murphy and Cory Brown increased the tempo and were tireless in their efforts as were the entire Ballina side. They were camped inside Sligo’s twenty two and the pressure was mounting on the visitors when Ballina managed to put together some phases and stretch their opponents defence but in the end Ballina were penalised and Sligo held out until shortly afterwards they were able to kick the ball to touch for the final play and subsequently the referee blew the final whistle.
Ballina will have been disappointed to have lost such an important derby match, but in truth they played much better last Sunday than they often have when they have easily beaten lesser opponents. They will take many positives from the game, but will look to the many times when ill judged short kicks ahead turned over possession when they are probably a better side when they keep the ball in hand. They are certainly capable of competing with teams of this standard and will look forward to doing so in the cup competitions. In the meantime they’ll be determined to get back to winning ways and to finishing as high up the league table as possible. Next week Ballina host Ballinrobe in Heffernan Park for their final home league game. It is an early 1pm K.O. so all their supporters can enjoy watching the Ireland v France Six Nations match in the clubhouse afterwards.  

BALLINA; Ciaran Melvin, Rodney O’Donnell, Tom Tolan, Connor Forde, William O’Connor, Phillip Timoney, Phillip Rowe, Aidan McNulty, Michael Murphy (C), Cory Brown, Niall O’Malley, Chris O’Neill, David Newman, Francis Conroy, Stephen McCarron, Rodney O’Donnell, Mark Healy, Judd Ruane, Kieran Rouse, Michael Clarke.
SLIGO; Wesley Maxwell, Ross Mannion, Adrian McHale, James Wilson, Jamie Bowie, Cathal Culhane, Paddy Conlon, Peter Mullen, Paddy Pearson, Mark Butler, Jordon Farrington, Matala Fafita, Gavin Foley, Aaron Spring, David Gerrity, Frank Feeney, Gary Connelly, Billy Leahy, Simon Coulter, Darragh Cox.


Gallery: HT minis – Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Corinthians and Dunmore